Pre-class Discussion for Jan 14

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Lessig, Free Culture, Introduction (pp. 1-13)

  • Does widespread generativity offset attempts to assert increased levels of cultural ownership to any significant degree? Can those attempts keep pace with the constant and diffuse creation of new cultural content enabled by the internet (at least absent substantial technological changes actually as opposed to legally constraining the creation itself)? Jhliss 07:34, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • From a value-based perspective, Lessig argues that generativity does indeed offset widespread assertions of ownership. Lessig views generativity as, more broadly, a "culture of values that have been integral to our tradition from the start" (Lessig, 10). Connecting this seemingly fundamental notion with evidence that culture is more "owned" than it has ever been (in a sense, more "pwned" by large, oft-corporate interests), Lessig's argument is quite forceful. savith 15:50, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • Turning to whether legal constraints can keep pace, one wonders whether a Justice Douglas-esque approach will be embraced. Was it was easier for J. Douglas to make his argument since "common sense" was aligned with the interests of the burgeoning airline industry? savith 15:50, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • An interesting point. Douglas himself was probably one of the most independent Justices (not to mention the most inclined to dispense with precedent and "law" in his opinions), but it was probably easier to gain a majority for his view given your observation. Jason 10:55, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • Although Lessig believes that the shift away from free culture is due to the political system's capture by special interests, is there any weight to his suggested (but dismissed) counter-argument that it is simply a correction for a mistake in the past? Keen touches on some points in his critique of amateurism (which I see as a subset of free culture), but I can't think of any others -- certainly nothing that compares to the examples of societal correction that Lessig points out -- slavery and inequality. Amehra 16:36, 13 January 2008 (EST)


Andrew Keen, Cult of the Amateur, Ch. 2

  • So many questions. I'll try to just pick a few . . . Jhliss 15:07, 13 January 2008 (EST)
    • Keen uses the words "we" and "us" a lot. To whom is he referring?
    • A doctor's not exactly like a journalist, right? Isn't the distinction important?
    • I don't think Keen and I read the same blogs. Even leaving aside the Britney/Paris criticism, doesn't Keen paint traditional media (and other cultural outlets) with a rather uncritical brush? Do I remain a "professional journalist" simply by virtue of my college education and employment by a traditional media outlet if I fabricate stories or act as court stenographer for those in power? Conversely, if I make my living producing original reporting and informed commentary while offering my readers both accuracy and transparency am I still not a "professional journalist" just because I don't have a journalism degree and my work happens not to appear in print? Does the ever-growing number of bloggers receiving press passes, for example, or paid serious attention by major corporations, suggest far more substance than Keen contemplates?
      • I had the exact same thought - Keen seems to forget about the times when all the editing and training of journalists leads to fabricated stories in major publications - see Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass. Lk37 11:51, 14 January 2008 (EST)
    • "Can the cult of the noble amateur really expect to bypass all this and do a better job?" Is the amateur entitled to create only if the product will be better than that of the non-amateur? If the reverse were true, would there by any major-label music released?
    • Was the $331,000 that Frito-Lay didn't pay for a professional Super Bowl ad really "sucked out of the economy"?
      • Glad I'm not the only one who raised my eyebrows at this point in the article. A bit ironic that Keen is asserting an economic "fact." I'd be interested to hear about his credentials/training in the field, as he seems to place a great deal of value on expertise.Cjohnson 11:20, 14 January 2008 (EST)
      • I was also a bit skeptical of Keen’s statements regarding the user-created advertisements marketed by Frito-Lay and Moe’s Southwest Grill and their impact of the economy. Obviously, the $331,000 was not sucked out of the economy, but was probably instead reinvested in the company, which would trickle down back into increased profits for shareholders, better job stability and benefits for employees, and perhaps used to grow other sectors of the company. The $331,000 not paid to professional filmmakers, scriptwriters, actors and marketing companies does not represent our entire economy, and has other possible uses than paying their salaries. Furthermore, I do not agree that such advertising schemes decreases consumer social surplus and transfer the lost amount into the hands of giant corporations. Who is to say that consumers don’t prefer these advertisements? Why should the marketing professionals be better judges of what consumers want, than consumers themselves? Monetary calculations paid to professionals instead of amateurs does not equate to consumer satisfaction or the quality of the advertisements. I feel like Keen emphasizes the quality of “traditional advertising” a bit too much. Also, if we believe that we are rational actors, then participants in such user-generated advertising campaigns doing so of their own free will and satisfied with the reward output for their time invested? I think so, and perhaps the winner of the Burrito contest is satisfied with having free burritos for life, and perhaps because he or she is an amateur (and does this for enjoyment rather than traditional pay) then the nonpecuniary benefit of having won such a contest is also equated into their reward. The same could be said of user-generated online shows and songs featured in Youtube and the like. Cseif 12:39, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • I have a few questions to add to the strong ones outlined above.
  • What does Keen mean by "Wikipedia's editors embrace and revel in the commonness of their knowledge"? Can we generalize contributors as jacks of all trades and masters of none?
  • This question segues to Keen's point about Dr. William Connolley. Why was Connolley unable to use his expertise to sway Wikipedia arbitrators? Is it possible that he based his changes on personal qualifications rather than using his expertise to cite compelling sources? (Personally, I think Keen defeats his own point here. That one's contributions should be weighted by assurances of personal expertise is prehaps weakened by his later focus on the 23-year-old contributer masquerading as an accomplished professor.)
savith 16:14, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • There was a small study done a few years ago comparing the accuracy of Encyclopedia Brittanica and Wikipedia. A short summary of it is available here. Essentially, it found that Wikipedia was surprisingly accurate, but not as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica. The findings were based on a fairly small sample size, though, and should be taken with a grain of salt. --NikaE 17:55, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • Some of my thoughts:
  • Keen doesn't seem to understand exactly how Wikipedia works. He claims that the site operates on the belief that "everyone should be given equal voice, irrespective of their title , knowledge, or intellectual or scholarly achievement" (Keen 43), when in fact, we've learned that there is a rough hierarchy among editors, with administrators and more experienced editors carrying more weight in the community than others.
  • He says one of the advantages of experts over amateurs is "their ability to go beyond the 'wisdom' of the crowd and mainstream public opinion." It's true that they may be less influenced by general public opinion, but as prominent individuals in their fields, they are also more susceptible to "capture" by special interests, control bias, and other strong influences.
  • In The Liquid Library section, Keen "fortells the death of culture" resulting from digitizing books and giving internet amateurs power over "remixing" them. He seems to imply that culture evolves, at least partly, from control. Lessig warns us that this kind of control by a small, powerful group is exactly what stymies culture. Amehra 18:31, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • It is interesting that Keen's fear of amateurs having the ability to "remix" music is something that will most likely come to pass. When Glen Brown spoke to our class via telephone and Professor Zittrain asked him about YouTube's future, Brown mentioned expanding possibilities for amateurs and professionals. Specifically, he stated that YouTube is currently working on giving music rights to YouTube users, so they can create their own videos. Artists, such as Beck and Barenaked Ladies, would willingly participate in these negotiations. However, I do not think it will be as difficult as Keen suggests to find "the rare few that are worthwile." Internet users have the ability to find what they want. Services that allow users to be more creative may encourage people to fine tune their skills. It is often seen through amateur videos that the videos with the most views are those closest to professional's sound, although video quality is not comparable (in the music context at least). Moreover, artists are being discovered through sites such as YouTube and MySpace (i.e.Cassie).KStanfield 11:13, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • I think it is interesting to compare this negative view of the amateur with Eric von Hippel's more positive view of amateur innovators and "Democratizing Innovation". Maybe it raises certain areas where the democratization argument isn't universally positive, but it probably serves a better purpose as a warning to keep in mind as processes and sources of innovation change. It is also an interesting theory to hold up against the idea of the open/free software movement where a lot of valuable programs are created by people, some of whom are amateurs, rather than only by professionals in a more structured process for deciding what projects are worth spending time on.--Mvogel 22:41, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • It seems to me that software is a great example of the limited use of training and professional status as predictors of quality. Jason 10:51, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • I'm tempted to view Keen's piece in light of Paul Ohm's "The Myth of the Superuser." While von Hippel is optimistic about democratized innovation, the superuser myth often drives legislation counterproductive to the generative community. In a sense, then, one can see Keen's fear as driven by a myth of the superamateur - one who makes low-quality, speciously cited contributions under a guise of expertise (or more broadly, one who embraces "commonness," is "unskilled, untrained" (Keen, 47) and has no concern for veracity). There are a number of problems with this argument, which we can flesh out together. One is that Keen fails to see that on Wikipedia, (legitimate) "citation needed" has become a rallying cry. savith 11:28, 14 January 2008 (EST)

Terry Fisher, Speech on Amateurism, (from OECD Digital Content Conference)

  • I was surprised to read that the number of performers has declined over the past century (until the past few years). Terry Fisher certainly knows what he's talking about to a far greater degree than I do, but can that be right? Jhliss 15:43, 13 January 2008 (EST)
    • I would think it would have something to do with the fact that performances are more centralized now because of television, radio, etc. If you look at the comparison it's between the early 20th century and the rest of the 20th century. At least that is how I took it, I could be wrong. Lk37 11:55, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • Prof. Fisher mentions Yochai Benkler's study of "machinima." Here's an example, complete with cheesy musical soundtrack. After viewing, you may want to return to reality by addressing copyright concerns. I believe that studio films (as well as non-profit producers like NPR and WGBH - when it comes to online availability) have to obtain permission before including any musical composition in their work. Could this song's distributor request and obtain the film's removal from YouTube? Or would you rather ignore this inquiry and watch another clip? savith 16:40, 13 January 2008 (EST)
    • Though Fisher's speech only addresses this slightly, every time I start thinking about this semiotic democracy stuff, my mind is always drawn back to the wide and exciting world of fandom. I'll come out and admit that I am a fanvid addict. While in the machinima example you might have a fair argument that the images from the video games are not protected under copyright because it is the user who is controlling what they do, and maybe to an extent what they look like, in the case of fanvids there is no escaping an accusation of double infringement, because in addition to the music, actual clips from television shows are being used. DRM and the anti-circumvention statute, if perfectly implemented and enforced, would completely wipe out this practice (I blush to call it an art). While many fanvids are trite shipper nonsense, some of them actually do comment on the works in intelligent, insightful and surprising ways, much like the body of fan written literary criticism (for instance) that is its low-tech cousin. Assuming that we think eliminating this opportunity for interaction with the media we love is a bad thing, which is the best option: continuing to fight DRM, etc, with a fair use argument until they relent and let us all get at the works; a licensing agreement like webcasters have, which would either give you a general key to access works, or keys to just certain works you sign up for; the current practice of unabashedly breaking DRM and crossing our fingers that we'll get away with it as long as our motives are pure? Vhettinger 08:27, 14 January 2008 (EST)

David Weinberger, Andrew Keen's Best Case (Huffington Post)

I guess the first question is: Are we satisfied with Weinberger's analysis of and response to Keen's piece? savith 16:49, 13 January 2008 (EST)

  • Personally, I am. Weinberger addresses what I think is Keen's biggest oversight: refusing to even mention the possibility of traditional ecosystem for developing talent co-existing with an equivalent internet ecosystem. Weinberger I think correctly points out that the line Keen draws between "professional" and "amateur" is meaningless when we are talking about something as subjective as people's taste in the arts and when recognizing that what makes traditional talent is often dependent on economic constraints (which have been vastly reduced with technology) rather than any true difference in skill. Amehra 19:21, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • I do, however, question Weinberger's contention that music, movie, book, and newspaper publishers are all "failing." They may be in decline, but as long as the traditional ecosystem is capable of putting out "polished" talent, it seems like there should be a market for them. Amehra 19:21, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • Weinberger's version of Keen's best case seemed to me a bit more pragmatic and empirical than my reading of Keen. The notion that the traditional ecosystem produces the best work is certainly part of Keen's argument, but aren't there more abstract components as well? I'll pick two examples: first, Keen huffs that "[a] finished book is not a box of Legos, to be recombined and reconstructed at whim." This assertion bears little relation to whether the writer was trained in the craft or the quality of the book, right? Second, Keen scoffs that Jimmy Wales is "a counter-enlightenment guy" because Wales pays insufficient heed to qualifications. But in doing so, doesn't Keen transform the Enlightenment's basis from reason to status? Jason 10:48, 14 January 2008 (EST)

Open University

Nesson-Margulies Interview

  • According to Margulies, MIT's Open Courseware program has no positive money flow. It has, however "enhanced" MIT's reputation, is internally "democratizing" the university, and gives students and faculty "incredible pride." That 37% of the $30 million budget goes towards copyright issues is striking (Margulies calls it "a very risk-averse position"), but seems justified by MIT's desire to promote its Open Courseware beyond that permitted by Fair Use. Should HLS be the first law school to develop Open Courseware? savith 17:46, 13 January 2008 (EST)
    • Ms. Margulies says that they do not rely on fair use because they want to offer the content to their viewers to use for non-commercial purposes beyond that of education. I wonder if we can speculate what these purposes might be, and whether all the faculty are on the same page about this... it seems to me that the main thrust of support is coming from people who are thinking of this as a public service education project. This vagueness in the interview makes me a little uneasy. Vhettinger 08:31, 14 January 2008 (EST)

Jeffrey Young, Thanks to YouTube, Professors Are Finding New Audiences

An old mentor of mine once commented that we live in a world "of increasing specialization, verging on professional myopia." It often worries me that the 'Renaissance man' is a thing of the past, that fields have developed so far that even a working understanding of them is impossible for most people not actually in that field, and that we are becoming so far removed from each other that everything outside our discipline must seem as arcane and mystifying as early man's first confrontation with fire. While there may be nothing that can reverse this trend, the bit at the end of this article about the mathematician was heartening. While previously his contribution would only have been read by a handful of people who were probably all highly specialized, now the number (and, one hopes, the range) of people learning from him has grown and can continue to grow considerably. Still, when one is explaining something highly technical, just the amount of time it would take can be prohibitive unless you assume a certain amount of shared background knowledge between yourself and your audience. What would be a way to encourage mass distribution of technical concepts without compromising the quality of their expression? Vhettinger 08:52, 14 January 2008 (EST)

Sara Rimer, At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star

  • Believe it or not, I watched Professor Lewin's introductory physics lecture as a break while studying for finals...
  • If I'm hired to teach physics at a local high school, and my lectures are word-for-word the same as Professor Lewin's (including experiments, etc.), does he have a copyright claim? While I'm profiting in one sense (getting salary, perhaps bonuses/recognition for high test scores), am I still technically absolved from liability under the limited educational exception to fair use? What if Bill Nye copied parts of Lewin's lecture for his television show? If Bill Nye is liable, what does he need to avoid liability (aside from not using the copied material)? savith 11:08, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • The way I understand the license is that you would have to give some credit to him for developing the materials if you were to use them verbatim but that you wouldn't be doing anything against the license if you were using them in your own physics class. However, if you wanted to use them for your own traditional commercial gain (i.e. Bill Nye) you might be in more of a spot. Kp 13:48, 14 January 2008 (EST)

Open Access

Budapest Open Access Initiative

Peter Suber, Publishers launch an anti-OA lobbying organization

  • Mildly interesting tidbit: Peter Suber wrote The Case of the Speluncean Explorers: Nine New Opinions. Jhliss 15:19, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • Suber suggests that having free access to the final version of the author's peer-reviewed manuscript (rather than the actual published edition) is not a violation of copyright. Is this a meaningful distinction? Do journal articles change much after the final peer-reviewed edition? This probably just reflects my lack of understanding regarding the journal publishing process, but how much exactly is the "value added" by publishers prior to publishing? Amehra 23:38, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • The edits that the publisher does to the final peer-reviewed edition are generally not that significant - some formatting, some explanation of a diagram/table/experimental section that needs further clarification. While this can be important in making it easier to understand an article, it provides minimal to no incentive to read the publisher's copyrighted version of an article rather than the final peer-reviewed copy. The value of a scientific article is knowing what was done, how it was done, and what the results mean. Aside from making it a little easier to be able to extract this information from the article, the publisher's not adding anything of value with its changes. Anna 02:12, 14 January 2008 (EST)

OA vs. TA

It seems that the major argument against broader OA is that it would have a negative financial impact on TA publishers (and that in turn this would be bad for academia, reduce peer-review, etc.). While this seems to be primarily an economic question there doesn't seem to be much in the materials on this question in particular aside from a passing reference to the physics community. Does anyone have any evidence on this question, anecdotal or other? Kp 13:26, 14 January 2008 (EST)

American Association of Publishers press release

  • One potential problem with this Open Access proposal that the AAP points out is the potential for government censorship. This proposal will probably force publishers to come up with a new business model, one of which is subsidies from the government. This raises the possibility that political considerations would come into the selection of research to be accepted into such journals and/or that authors would be forced to skew their analysis and conclusions in order to get their work published. The possibility of political influence being used to quash legitimate scientific inquiry has already been raised over NIH funding granted to controversial research topics. While peer review isn’t perfect, it does have the benefit of being driven by the commercial motive to maximize readership, which incentivizes publishing accurate and interesting research and is thus less likely to be influenced by political pressures than a government-funded model of review. Anna 11:59, 14 January 2008 (EST)

Google Books

Michigan Google contract

  • Here's an example of an old book from the U. of Michigan library that's been scanned into Google Book Search (with the scanner's fingers included!). I remember hearing about this project when Google first launched it a while back, but it seems they still have a long way to go. I imagine the UM library has millions of volumes, but only a small fraction seem to be online, and an even smaller number have hyperlinked index/table of contents pages or accurate titles (here's an example with a linked index). Amehra 23:55, 13 January 2008 (EST)
  • Jeffrey Toobin ponders Google's "quest for the universal library" in the New Yorker. Jumpingdeeps 10:40, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • On a minor note, one thing that struck me from our Wikipedia dabbling in the past few weeks is how much that editing community relies on Google Book Search for speedy access to references and cites. For example, in one of the controversial pages we considered for dispute resolution, Adamic language, several contributers discuss the simplicity of locating and researching their Wiki topics on Google Book Search. Jumpingdeeps 10:40, 14 January 2008 (EST)
  • I have had a very positive experience with Google Books, not for its selection but for how much easier it makes books to use, particularly in terms of traversing between them. Jason 10:57, 14 January 2008 (EST)